By Midshipman W.A. Stow, RAN
William Stow was born in Plymouth, England in 1987 and spent the majority of his youth moving with his father, an officer in the Royal Navy, and family throughout the UK and Australia. The family migrated to Australia in 1996 and have since lived in North West Sydney. William attended high school at Oakhill College in Castle Hill graduating in 2005. He then studied Finance and Accounting at the University of Sydney. Throughout his studies he worked as an insurance analyst at an actuarial consultancy firm. William joined the RAN as a Midshipman in July 2011. He is an aspiring Pilot and hopes to fly the MH-60R Seahawk, which is due to enter service at approximately the same time he hopes to earn his ‘Wings.’
Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point.
Unbeknown to many Australians a detachment of the RAN Fleet Air Arm was deployed as helicopter support for ground operations in the Vietnam War. The RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam (RANHFV) joined with the US Army’s 135th Assault Helicopter Company for the duration of the deployment. This combined force was known as the Experimental Military Unit or EMU.
From an Australian perspective the EMU’s endured the highest casualty rate of any RAN unit in the conflict, with five men killed in the course of duty. Many of the unit’s service men were entitled to awards for acts of courage and gallantry throughout the deployment. In this essay we will draw on the character qualities of two RAN officers, highlighting the relevance to the Fleet Air Arm and RAN today. Firstly we shall analyse the preceding events and the actions of SBLT Andrew Perry of the 3rd RANHFV Contingent who was awarded the Silver Star and secondly LEUT James C. Buchanan of the 4th RANHFV Contingent who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The UH-1 Iroquois Helicopter
The UH-1 Iroquois Helicopter, or Huey, is an iconic symbol of the Vietnam War. It is synonymous with both the nature of the conflict and obstinate ethos of the allied soldiers, sailors and airmen that fought within the country. The dense jungle topography of Vietnam and high intensity of operations meant that a rugged and versatile helicopter was necessary. With a simple design and minimal maintenance requirement, the indefatigable Huey proved to be the right asset for the job, earning the soubriquet of ‘the jeep of Vietnam.’
In 1967, when the intensity of conflict between allied and communist belligerents increased, so too did the numerical concentration of ground forces within the country. Although American forces had sufficient Huey’s for operations, they lacked highly trained pilots, crew and maintainers. At this time the RAN’s 723 Squadron, based out of RAN Air Station HMAS Albatross at Nowra, NSW, operated a fleet of seven UH-1B Iroquois for training and Search and Rescue purposes. On 14 July 1967 the Australian Minister for Defence, the Honourable Allen Fairhall, announced a contingent from 723 Squadron would join the US Army 135th Assault Helicopter Company to: provide airborne support for all Allied forces in South Vietnam’s Phuoc Tuy Province.
RAN Helicopter Flight Vietnam and the EMU’S
On 16 October 1967 the 1st Contingent of RANHFV arrived in Vang Tau, Vietnam. It totalled 46 members and was composed of 8 pilots, 4 observers, 4 aircrewmen, 24 technical sailors and 6 support staff. Upon arrival the RANHFV integrated with the US Army’s 135th Assault Helicopter Company. The assimilated company consisted of 70 officers, 230 men and 30 Huey’s, which were then divided into three platoons. The unit was officially designated the Experimental Military Unit or EMU, as the Americans wished to name the unit after a fast and aggressive Australian bird. The irony that the Emu is a flightless bird was not lost on the Australians.
Given the voluntary nature of RAN service and the much longer service obligation, officers and technical sailors of the RAN were generally trained to a far greater standard than their US contemporaries. Consequently the members of the RANHFV soon gained a reputation for their professionalism, earning senior positions as aircraft and platoon commanders, as well as technical maintenance managers. A US Army soldier noted: the only difficulties I perceived … was a different outlook in terms of the military as a career… the Australians were somewhat more formal in their approach to uniform and discipline than we were. Although well regarded by their American counterparts the members of the RANHFV were not without their relative eccentricities, as Major General A.L. Macdonald, Commander Australian Force Vietnam noted: the RAN’s penchant for facial hair was a complete anathema to the United States Army, who associate beards with hippies and such like people.